Veterans court honors second graduate
DIXON – The number 556 marked a new start for a Lee County veteran Tuesday.
It’s the number of days 44-year-old Stephen Lohse has spent sober while participating in the Lee County Veterans Treatment Court, a specialty court focused on helping veterans who are suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder with early intervention and treatment, rather than jail time.
“So much has happened in the last 18 months; life has happened in 18 months,” Lohse said shortly after his graduation ceremony at the Lee County Courts Building.
An E4 Specialist, Lohse served two tours in Iraq and 6 months in Bosnia, and his tenure in the U.S. Army and reserves spanned from 1996 to 2012 when he received several accolades including the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
The Dixon native, who plans to resume work as a crane operator, is the second to graduate from the program in the last 2 months.
His advice to the fellow veterans in the court was to follow the seven basic values of the Army, which are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
“Follow that, and you’ll come off clean on the other side,” Lohse said.
The Veterans Treatment Court was created in November 2016 and received a $400,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance last year.
Requirements for participants include having to remain drug and alcohol free for at least 6 months, be successfully engaged in treatment and productive activities, pay existing fines, have no new convictions and complete any special requirements set by the court.
Judge Charles T. Beckman said Lohse did whatever it took to fulfill the requirements, and he did it “with with heart and feeling and willingness to make it work.”
After completing the requirements, Lohse’s guilty plea for a driving under the influence charge from 2017 was withdrawn, and the case was dismissed.
Public defender Bob Thompson said the pride Lohse has for his service coupled with the pride from everyone involved in the court “makes this whole journey rewarding.”
Mike Koppien, a veteran and Lee County Board member, presented a treatment court coin and certificate to Lohse, who was also later wrapped up in a quilt from the Illinois Valley chapter of the Quilts of Valor Foundation that aims to give warmth, comfort and healing to veterans.
“You’ve done a lot of hard work, and we appreciate it,” Koppien said.